Reflections on William Kentridge

 

 

Another noted artist that I only discovered in the last few years, but whose art and ideas have greatly influenced me, is the South African artist William Kentridge.

Renowned for his animated expressionist drawings and films exploring time, the history of colonialism and the aspirations and failures of revolutionary politics, South African artist William Kentridge (b.1955, Johannesburg) featured in two major London exhibitions in the last two years that I was fortunate enough to see in the last couple of years.

The Whitechapel Gallery exhibition showcased six large-scale installations by the artist, where music and drama are ruptured by revolution, exile and scientific advancement.

 

Highlights included the film work Second-hand Reading (2013), installation O Sentimental Machine (2015) and The Refusal of Time (2012), an immersive work created with composer Philip Miller, projection designer Catherine Meyburgh, choreographer Dada Masilo, scientist Peter Galison and collaborators from around the world.

Marian Goodman presented two multiscreen film installations: More Sweetly Play the Dance, and Notes Toward a Model Opera.

 

 

More Sweetly Play the Dance is an eight-screen danse macabre, reminding one of the medieval tradition which summons diverse vestiges of humanity in a paradox of revelry and mourning. Kentridge presents us with part carnival, protest, and exodus: a 45 metre caravan traversing in a sphere around us with figures in procession, a form the artist invoked in his 1999 Shadow Procession.

 

About the processional form, Kentridge says:

“In some ways we first come across it in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In a prelude to talking about the responsibility of the philosopher king, he describes people walking behind a screen carrying wooden and stone objects in their hands, their shadows thrown onto the wall opposite the prisoners shackled in the cave watching the shadows.”

Kentridge manages to combine traditional media with new media in work that references much of the culture and history of humankind’s interactions with each other – my work does not of course encompass such a vast range of subjects and media, however, I have found him inspiring for what is possible.

As with Mona Hatoum, Do Ho Suh and Tatsuo Miyajima, other artists who have greatly influenced me over these last two years, I dream about the kind of work I might make that goes beyond my previous boundaries of tradition painting and printmaking, of relatively small-scale, framed works, to the ideas of truly multi-media, multi-sensory pieces and installations drawing from a myriad of sources, cultures, languages and peoples.

 

 

Links and references

 

 

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Tatsuo Miyajima from 9 to 1 and zero in the cycle of life and death

In my post about the London-based Korean artist, Do Ho Suh, I talked about the importance of the notion of karma to his work. Karma is also central to the work of the Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima.

 

Miyajima’s three core concepts are:

 

  • keep changing
  • connect with everything
  • continue forever

These three symbolise human life and are the basis for his art.

Key to Miyajima’s practice are the numbers nine to one and zero, he says:

“Basically the count goes down from nine to one, then repeats: from 9-8-7, these numbers shine this represents life. The count continues, and as it does this symbolises change.

 

Then we reach zero In Sanskrit zero was call “sunya”, in Buddhism, in Japanese, this becomes kuu, “the void”.

It is said this idea originated in India in the sixth century but the original meaning  was not only emptiness or nothingness but also  swollenness an explosion.

In other words, ‘zero’ incorporates two diametrically opposed meanings: it indicates that this void is invisible, yet packed with energy.

 

 

 

So when someone dies, it’s like going to sleep: you can’t see anything, but there’s plenty of power there, and if you rest for a while, life reverts as though you were waking up the next morning.

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Tatsuo Miyajima: Counter Voice in Wine

This repeating cycle of life and death can be taken as the boundary of what is visible: invisible then visible, the pattern of life and death repeating. For Miyajima, that’s what it’s all about, that’s what life is.”

Miyajima doesn’t include zero in his work because it would signify death. So instead of a zero, it goes black:

“The gap between counting cycles represents a pause or breath, the ‘space of death’ before life begins once more.”

I personally found this exhibition inspiring both for the sheer scale and technical knowledge that must have been behind its staging, but even more because of the conceptual ideas behind Miyajima’s work.

This idea of the cycle of life and death, of karma, being represented by the simple idea of counting between 9 and 1 (to limit the numbers to single digits only) seems to me brilliant in its simplicity, and it can be used in so many ways. This also inspired me to think about the other textual references I could layer over my work, to represent the languages and therefore cultures that have influenced both my personal history, and that of my ancestors, but really of the history of humankind, if I can be so bold!

 

Links

 

 

 

 

Space and place in the work of Do Ho Suh

 

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Do Ho Suh: Karma sculpture

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Do Ho Suh working on his Rubbing/Loving project

From work on paper and video to sculpture and immersive installation, the notion of karma is the title and subject of many works by Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

At the start of 2016, I was most fortunate to visit Singapore’s STPI on the last day of the exhibition, Do Ho Suh: New works.

This visit coincided with an important turning point in thinking about my own work, and in many ways came as a revelation to me, particularly with Do Ho Suh’s focus on the concept of karma and the notion of a global citizen with a mobile home: themes of space, place, home, karma, and the connection between the individual and the group across global cultures.

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Do Ho Suh: home and karma based thread drawings

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Do Ho Suh: Karma thread drawing

Born in Seoul in 1962, Do Ho Suh moved from his native South Korea, to study and live in New York and Paris, before moving to London, where he is now based.

Influenced by his peripatetic existence, an enduring theme of the artist’s practice is the connection between the individual and the group across global cultures.

His own feelings of loss of personal connected space, the sense of “home” and lack of centre, is obvious in his beautifully imagined and created sculptures and installations, as well as his many works on paper and video.

Suh’s Rubbing/Loving Project, as with much of his work, deals with the notion of home and homesickness; indeed, he explicitly asks what is this very notion of home and how can a person carry their home with them.

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Do Ho Suh: Rubbing/Loving project

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Do Ho Suh: Rubbing/Loving project

Do Ho Suh’s works explore the myriad of feelings associated with the immigrant experience: being dislocated, attempting to understand unfamiliar surrounding striving to create a new home.

The recent Victoria Miro exhibition, Do Ho Suh: Passages, showed some of the work Suh is perhaps most famous for: his one-to-one life-scale fabric representations of his homes.

Continuing the work of his Rubbing/Loving Project, these are at once beautiful and poignant reminders of how we all carry home or homes within us, and perhaps how we would like to carry all our homes were it possible to roll or fold them to carry with us to the next place.

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Do Ho Suh

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Do Ho Suh: Home

The multiplicity of individuality is tested through meditative processes of repetition: whether interlinked along a lattice of fishing nets, amassed into monumental tornado-like forms, absent from ranks of empty uniforms, or present in every yearbook photo taken at the artist’s high school over 60 years, the artist uses the reproduced human figure to explore sensitively, and with spectacular formal effect, the ways in which personal space inherently extends into the collective sphere.

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Do Ho Suh

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Do Ho Suh: Running man

The human figure often dominates in Suh’s work: his drawings are filled with abundant references to himself and others; some are kinds of self-portraits – what he calls, “a contemplation of myself” – but he is not only looking inward at himself, but also outward: his sense of inter-connectedness with others of familial relationships in the present but also the past and future.

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Do Ho Suh: Floor

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Do Ho Suh: Floor detail

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Do Ho Suh: Karma

Though much of Do Ho Suh’s work is autobiographical: his pieces are highly informed by his personal experiences of home and migration, and the search for anchor points; this longing for home is the core of any person’s identity.

The work of Do Hu Suh raises questions that pertain to each of us in the universal human experience.

I await the Whitechapel’s July 2017 Art Night, which features Do Ho Suh, with great anticipation.

 

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Do Ho Suh: Karma juggler

Further reading

 

 

Mona Hatoum’s “Measures of Distance” is a reflection of our global life

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Mona Hatoum

The 2016 exhibition at London’s Tate Modern of the work of Mona Hatoum surprised and intrigued me. I knew little of her work before I saw this show, yet was sure it would be interesting and thought-provoking, as her life and ideas are of interest to me in my own work.

The artist’s biography is marked by exile: Hatoum is a British artist, born in 1952 into a Palestinian family exiled in Lebanon. For over three decades she has been creating works which ask us to re-consider how we see and understand the world, and its “notions of territory, fragility, humanity, scale and power” (Smith, 2016).

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Mona Hatoum: Homebound 2000

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Mona Hatoum: Hot Spot 2013

To say that Hatoum’s work is “electrifying” is perhaps a bit corny, given the literally electric component of much of her work, but I think it is completely apt. Indeed the electric current ran through Mona Hatoum’s whole show at Tate Modern. Ever present, like a now distant, now nearer threat, the crackle and droning hum could be heard almost everywhere, emitted from Homebound: furniture and objects arranged behind a barrier of taut steel wire.

Produced in 2000, this domestic arrangement of tables and chairs, kitchen utensils, lights, cots, toys, a birdcage, are all wired-up so that an audible current surges round the room, with objects lit up in turn, “the aggressive sound amplified for our pleasure and disquiet. With Hatoum, the two are almost always twinned.” (Searle, 2016)

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Mona Hatoum: Grater Divide 2002

Homebound is just one of several “anxious interiors” in an exhibition that shows Hatoum’s oeuvre. Her 2013 piece Hot Spot presents the entire globe as a danger zone, with the term ‘hot spot’ referring to a place of “military or civil unrest”; here red neon outlines the contours of the world’s continents, showing what Hatoum describes as a “world continually caught up in conflict and unrest”(Smith, 2016).

Much of her work is darkly disturbing when you may think it will be at first glance. The over-sized, scaled-up domestic appliances of Grater Divide and Dormiente, using items such as graters and other kitchen utensils, useful and homely at their regular size, take on sinister characters hinting at torture implements when larger than human-scale.

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Mona Hatoum: Dormiente 2008

 

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Mona Hatoum: Dormiente (detail) 2008

 

A key piece for me is Mona Hatoum’s film Measures of Distance. It speaks to me of the inter-connectedness of familial relationships across space and time. In the film, the artist’s mother is shown in close-up, in the intimacy of her shower. Fragments of Arabic script from their handwritten correspondence form a visual barrier over the image; like barbed wire, the script conceals and reveals the body speaking simultaneously of literal and implied closeness and distance, simultaneously expressing the painful distance of displacement and the longings for closeness that mark the artist’s experience.

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Mona Hatoum: Measures of Distance 1988 (film still)

In this work I was also trying to go against the fixed identity that is usually implied in the stereotype of Arab woman as passive, mother as non-sexual being… the work is constructed visually in such a way that every frame speaks of literal closeness and implied distance.
(Quoted in Mona Hatoum 1997, p.140).

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Mona Hatoum: Measures of Distance 1988 (film still)

The film graphically highlights the difficulties of communicating across the geographical divide: Hatoum’s audio track reading of the letters in both Arabic and English shows the dual identity through language that a migrant or exile experiences and takes on board:  language both expands and limits expression, here the dual language also serves to bring audiences of both languages closer together.

Exploring themes of home and displacement from the perspective of the Palestinian exile, Mona Hatoum’s works, from the last thirty years and today, continue to be relevant in this “age of migrants, curfews, identity cards, refugees, exiles, massacres, camps and fleeing civilians” (Said, 2000).

Further reading

Gallery websites featuring the artist’s work

 

 

First year MA student’s Interim display at the Camberwell College of Arts Postgraduate Summer Show 2016

UAL_MAVA_CCA_PGshow2016As the summer heats up (well, we can hope) the graduate and post-graduate shows are happening all over the country. If you want to be amongst the first to see the most exciting new talent emerge, pop-in to see the  University of the Arts London’s (UAL) freshest graduates open up their work to the public. Visit the UAL summer shows – a series of free art, design, fashion, communication and performance exhibitions taking place across London.

Of particular personal interest are the up and coming artists and designers of tomorrow at the Camberwell College of Arts Post-graduate Summer Show, featuring work by graduating students from the MA Visual Arts courses:

Sharon Low is in the first year of the MA Visual Arts in Printmaking at the Camberwell College of Arts. MA Book Arts and MA Printmaking first year students are putting together an “interim display”, to give visitors a taster of the MA projects they are each concerned with.

The Private View is on Thursday 14 July 2016, from 6pm – 9pm.

The show is then open to the general public:

Friday 15 July – 10am – 8pm
Saturday 16 July – 11am – 5pm
Sunday 17 July – Closed
Monday 18 July – 10am – 8pm
Tuesday 19 July – 10am – 8pm
Wednesday 20 July- 10am – 8pm

Visit the UAL website for more information.

 

 

 

The Candyman of Artists’ books

The Magic of Paul Johnson: Movable Book Artist and Teacher

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson: book artist and children’s literacy expert

Last year I was fortunate enough to experience first-hand the art and magic of British book artist and children’s literacy expert Paul Johnson, as part of the Designer Bookbinders autumn series of lectures at the St Bride Foundation in London.

In her interesting blog about making books with children, www.bookmakingwithkids.com, Cathy Miranker said:

“Johnson’s specialty is doing exceptional things with single sheets of paper, and he uses his magic in two ways, teaching book arts to school children (and training teachers to use bookmaking in their classrooms) and making many-layered pop-up paper constructions.

“His show-and-tell session was electrifying, the most inspiring talk I’ve heard. The audience applauded and applauded—they just couldn’t stop. There was a lot of hugging, too, as if people hoped to catch some spark of his.

 

 

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“Paul himself is modest, low-key, soft-spoken, undemonstrative. Except that as he talked, something extraordinary began to happen: a quiet passion seemed to take possession of him and spill over into the audience, too.

“I was completely carried away by the story of how he discovered paper—he said he didn’t notice it until he was 45, and then he couldn’t help but change his life—his endless fascination with the possibilities in a single sheet of paper (“I didn’t add anything, I didn’t take anything away, but look what it turned into! I think this must be Zen.”), his work habits, his love affair with color, his belief in book arts as a compelling path to literacy for children.”

 

 

Paul Johnson has an international reputation for his pioneering work in developing literacy and visual communication skills through the book arts. He is author of over fifteen titles including A Book of One’s Own, Literacy Through the Book Arts and Pictures and Words Together (all published by Heinemann,USA.)  Recent teaching tours include Sweden, South Korea and Thailand and he regularly teaches in the USA.

 

Innovative educator and successful book artist, the work of Dr Johnson can be found in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, the National Gallery, the Library of Congress, Washington DC, and many US universities including UCLA, Berkeley, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Yale and Harvard. His work was selected for the Stand and Deliver USA touring exhibition of pop-up editioned books, as well as the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild’s, The Art of the Book touring exhibition  for which he also received the guild’s Book Art Colophon Award. He is on the UK Craft Council’s select list of British designer-makers.

 

 

 

Johnson studied at Norwich School of Art and Rabindranath Tagore’s University of Santiniketan in India. When he was and art educator at the Manchester Metropolitan University in the late 1980s Paul Johnson inaugurated The Book Art Project, the main focus of which was to teach writing to children through the book form. Since then he has made books with over 200,000 children and over 25,000 teachers worldwide.

Paul Johnson says, ‘It was seeing the sculptural bindings of Phillip Smith over thirty years ago that inspired me to look beyond the book as something to read.’

pauljohnson_05In the Designer Bookbinders autumn series of lectures presentation, Paul Johnson shared his life experiences as book artist and teacher. It was simply delightful “eye candy” to see several of his unique carousel pop-up books: first in the flat-pack state, then assembled into the 3D form. An added joy was hearing how these books inform the pop-up books that children – some as young as four years of age – make in his workshops.

pauljohnson_06More information

 

New English Art Club Annual Open Exhibition 2016

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The New English Art Club (NEAC) Annual Open Exhibition held at Mall Galleries opens to the public on Thursday 16 June and runs until Saturday 25 June 2016.

The NEAC Annual Open Exhibition is now firmly established as a fixture of the London Summer Season, exhibiting painting and drawing made from direct observation.

The exhibition includes painting, drawing and prints selected from an open submission alongside the work of member artists.

During its early years, the NEAC was well-known for its Impressionist style, and the influence of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism continues. More than a century since its inception, today the NEAC is regarded as a “well respected institution and one of the foremost exhibiting societies”, and today continues in a realistic, figurative style.

Tthe NEAC seeks work which “demonstrates excellence in both concept and draughtsmanship”, and views its place and aim as a “centre of excellence for drawing and painting”.  Current distinguished artists include Jason Bowyer PPNEAC PS RP, Melissa Scott Miller NEAC RP, Daniel Shadbolt NEAC, Diana Armfield RA NEAC Hon Rt RWS, Anthony Green NEAC LG RA Hon RBA Hon ROI and Ken Howard OBE PPNEAC RA RBA RBSA ROI RWA.

Visit the NEAC website to see the full list of exhibiting artists. All works are for sale and available to view online as well as in the gallery.

New English Art Club

References and further information:

Portrayed! 25 Years of Inspiring Women‏

The Lots Road Group, together with the International Women’s Forum UK (IWF UK) opened their annual exhibition at The Chelsea Town Hall last week with a packed Private View and a fabulous video introduction by esteemed portrait artist, Daphne Todd, a real honour for the group.

The Lots Road Group teamed up with IWF UK on its 25th Anniversary to produce a portrait exhibition of 16 of its most inspiring women – its four founders and first 12 chairs.

IWF UK is part of the International Women’s Forum (IWF), an organisation which advances leadership across careers, cultures and continents by connecting the world’s most pre-eminent women of significant and diverse achievement.

With over 5,000 women leaders across six continents and 33 nations, the IWF has unprecedented global reach to exchange ideas, learn and inspire, and promote better leadership for a changing world.

The portraits have been created by artists in the Lots Road Group – artists who all studied at The Heatherley School of Fine Art in Chelsea, one of the few art colleges that focus purely on portraiture, figurative painting and sculpture.

Together the group has captured in oils, acrylics, pastel, and print the 16 women who founded or chaired IWF UK during its first 25 years.

Susan Young, who chaired the organisation during its 25th year and championed the initiative said:

I am delighted to embark on this special collaboration with the Lots Road Group. This is a wonderful opportunity to capture the essence of our leaders on canvas and represent inspiring leadership in an innovative medium.

This is the Lots Road Group’s second major project. Last year, in the run up to Mother’s Day, the group mounted a portrait exhibition celebrating motherhood.

This year’s exhibition of IWF UK’s leaders at The Chelsea Gallery runs until Sunday 7 June 2015.

The related catalogue is available on line and on sale at the exhibition, and contains brief biographical information about each of the artists and sitters, as well as a brief account of what it was like for each artist to portray the women who provided the inspiration for these portraits.

The Lots Road Group blog contains interesting behind-the-scenes pictures and a video of the exhibition hang.

The Chelsea Gallery:
Chelsea Library
Chelsea Old Town Hall
King’s Road
London SW3 5EZ

Related links

The Lots Road Group are:

 

Be nice to your portrait artist…

In a lesson to sitters to be nice to their portrait painters, renowned British portrait artist, Daphne Todd, discussed hidden meanings and items that portrait artists have put in their paintings, when speaking on a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s “Today Programme”.

From the shadow of Monica Lewinsky’s dress in the recently unveiled Nelson Shanks portrait of President Clinton, conversation moved to the horns that Todd admitted will appear above someone’s head in years to come in one of her own works.

David Sanderson in his Times’ article entitled: “Top portrait painter takes devilish revenge on rude sitter”,  joked the “x-ray machines are being ordered. Just where are those devil horns?”

Daphne Todd was the first female president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and a winner of one of the most prestigious art prizes in the world, the BP Portrait Award. She is regarded as one of the UK’s leading portraitists, and she has painted some of those from “the upper echelons of nobility, academia and the arts world”. On the BBC programme she confessed that hidden underneath the hair of one of her subjects lies a “devilish surprise” that will make clear her dislike of the man when it is eventually revealed.

Daphne Todd said she this came about when she decided “to wreak her revenge on an ‘obnoxious young gentleman’ whose portrait she had been commissioned to paint”. She said:

“I painted a pair of horns… I painted hair on top but in future years these horns will bleed through… He was rude really… I had a four-hour round trip over the Christmas period in the early hours of darkness to get there for first light. And then they can’t be bothered to get out of bed.”

However, she refused to reveal who this notorious person was, laughing: “Oh, I would not do the dirty on them… That’s not right.” Daphne Todd did admit that it would all be revealed, in time:  “It may be 50 years or 100 years, who knows. But they are there if you x-ray it.”

When further questioned,  the artist did provide some clues, that it was: “at a time when she could not afford to walk away from a commission,” it was a “young gentleman”, who, at least at the time of the sitting, had hair.

Todd’s biographer, Jenny Pery, recalled a conversation with the artist when she spoke of an difficult unknown sitter, part of a double portrait so the portrait in question could be of a husband and wife. “She was travelling a lot for the portrait,” she said of Todd’s journeys to paint the “devil”.

Daphne Todd further added:

“They can jolly well turn up on time. It is just extremely bad manners. A lot of people treat portrait painters as tradesmen but quite often they are serious artists of extraordinary national importance.

“I think people should treat their portrait painter properly… We have got little powers that we can deploy.”

This all follows in the rich historical tradition of hidden messages in art: Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait hides a tiny figure, presumably the artist, waving back at the viewer.  Famously, Hans Holbein the Younger continues the discussion by his placement of a memento mori at the feet of The Ambassadors: when viewed from high on the right side of the picture or low on the left side, the image is clearly a anamorphic perspective depcition of a skull.

Shortly after Daphne Todd’s confession of her own little artistic subterfuge, another portrait painter, Mark Roscoe, admitted to including one himself in the painting of Bill Oddie, the TV wildlife presenter: it was “the shadowy form of a bird – a long-tailed tit – with its name in Latin alongside, in a pointed reference to the television presenter supposedly being long in the tooth”.

David Lister, in the Independent, stated:

“My experience with the brilliant, if now notorious, Daphne Todd taught me that there are artistic imperatives for the sitter as much as for the painter in portrait sessions.

“First, avoid falling asleep, which can be surprisingly tricky when you are sitting still for three hours at a time. It might appear a little rude.

“Second, only speak when you’re spoken to. Artists aren’t keen on their concentration being interrupted.

“Third, realise that all questions put to you are all a subtle part of the artistic process, and your answers, both in tone and content, will somehow inform the finished work.

“Lastly, if you are in their studio, be aghast at the astounding talent the works on the walls show.

“Otherwise, like the “young gentleman” and Bill Oddie, you might end up being punished for posterity.”

Further reading

Related artist’s websites

Contemporary British Figurative Painting

Thinking about British figurative painting evokes names such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney. These artists can be seen to follow in and further the traditions begun by the pre-war painters such as the Camden Town GroupWalter Sickert, David Bomberg, the Bloomsbury Group and the realists of the Euston Road School.

This work was in contrast to the various styles influenced by other modern art at the time, of Paris and New York, such as Surrealism, abstraction and Pop Art. Beside these parallel movements was another kind of art pioneered by a group of loosely associated artists later labelled The School of London, which was important in the reinvention of figurative art in the second half of the 20th century.

What united them was a belief in the possibility of finding new ways to create realist paintings and reinvent the representation of the human figure to make it relevant in a world traumatised by the Second World War.

When not in their studios, many of these figurative painters could be found drawing in the National Gallery, London. Their study was the art of the Renaissance and of Impressionism, regarding those pre-modern art pioneers as their teachers.

It was during the 1970s and 1980s that the work of Bacon, Freud and Hockney  gradually began to be recognised as amongst the most important British art of its time. This was an undeclared group, whose members have always varied, yet Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, Leon Kossoff, Euan Uglow and the more Pop Art-associated David Hockney, are regarded as the important artists, for between them they found new ways of looking intensely at the world around them: painting what they saw, with what they felt.

It is in this tradition that the New English Art Club (NEAC) was formed, although the origin of the Club was actually in the studios of a group of young London artists in 1885. This group of painters had studied and worked in Paris, and felt a dissatisfaction with the exhibition potential of the very academic British Royal Academy (RA), which was under the presidency of Sir Frederick and later Lord Leighton.

In April 1886 this group of artists mounted an alternative, rival show to that of the RA: this first exhibition of the NEAC included around fifty artists, including Frederick Brown, George Clausen, Stanhope Forbes, Walter Sickert, John Singer Sargent and Wilson Steer.

Much of the development of the NEAC should be seen in relation to the “old-school academic art” of the RA‘s “stolid… approach”, compared to the “dynamic and vibrant observation of the New English“. This is perhaps too simplistic a characterisation, however, it is remarkable that:

“the artistic descendants of the Impressionists continued to be associated with the New English whilst the RA moved by fits and starts towards a more conceptual approach and towards public gallery orientated work.”

The influence of the NEAC grew greatly during the late 19th and early 20th century, with artists such as Sickert, Augustus John, Gwen John, Tonks, Steer and William Rothenstein viewed as “a golden period indeed”. Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Duncan Grant and Mark Gertler were all members in the 1920s; indeed:

“almost every member of the Camden Town Group started with the New English… and it formed an essential part of their development”.

It is an understatement to observe that since the mid-1880s the world of visual art has changed enormously: up until World War II, Paris was regarded as the undisputed centre of the art world, some regard New York as the pivot point, with London at times viewed to be the predominant heart of art in Europe: certainly there has been a huge increase in the number of commercial and public galleries.

Yet the hardship of life as an artist continues as ever: indeed, it is very difficult indeed to establish a reputation as an artist and to produce and sell pictures of high quality in sufficient quantities to provide a living. To make work that is:

“vigorous and lively and life enhancing, an artist’s needs are: a tradition in which to work – or in other words – a shared artistic language, a training – an education in this language, an exhibition space and a public to buy work. All of these the New English helps to provide.”

Contemporary aims of the RA and the NEAC have diverged greatly, and today the RA could be regarded as abandoning much so called ‘figurative painting‘, which some view as leaving the field clear for the NEAC to champion figurative work. At a New English exhibition:

“at which non-members work is also shown, you will now see imaginative painting, expressionism sometimes satirical subjective paintings and abstracted work amongst the directly observed objective painting which is part of our “continuing” tradition.”

Ironically, many of NEAC artists later became members of the RA, but they still continued to exhibit with the NEAC for the rest of their careers. During the 1940s and 50s the NEAC and the RA could be viewed as most closely aligned, where some regarded the NEAC as a “staging post” or “stepping tone” to the RA.

During its early years, the Impressionist style was well represented at the NEAC, and the influence of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism continues. Nowadays, more than a century since its inception, the NEAC is regarded as a “well respected institution and one of the foremost exhibiting societies”, and today continues in a realistic, figurative style, whilst the RA has embraced abstract and conceptual art.

Today the New English seeks work which “demonstrates excellence in both concept and draughtsmanship”, and views its place and aim as a “centre of excellence for drawing and painting”. Artists such as Jason Bowyer, Melissa Scott Miller, Daphne Todd (amongst many others) are for me key artists in this area.

The visual language they speak:

“is one in which pictorial statements are slowly and intricately constructed, but when they are completed they can be understood quickly and easily by everyone.”

Further,

“It is ever evolving and capable of great spiritual depth, and this language is the Club’s main concern. The content of the pictures, the visual messages which they convey and the eloquence and strength with which they are painted is a matter for individual painters, the framework within which these artists and others like them work is the province and the future of the New English Art Club.”

Today the New English Art Club is a group of over 80 professional painters whose work is based principally upon direct observation of nature and the human figure.  Its Annual Exhibition is a showcase for its members and gives aspiring artists an opportunity to be seen alongside some of the best figurative artists painting today.

Since the foundation of the NEAC many diverse styles of art have developed, which add richness and variety to its exhibitions. In the world of contemporary British figurative art, the NEAC,  with it current president, Richard Pikesley PNEAC:

“aims to foster excellence in all its activities and continues to assist and encourage the art of painting to develop even more expressive possibilities”,

and the New English actively engages educated public interest on many different levels, including:

“a nationwide programme of exhibitions, an acclaimed School of Drawing, a website and an active Friends scheme that supports the aims of the New English.”

The New English Art Club Annual Exhibition 2014 runs from Friday 28th November, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm, until Sunday 7th December, 1.00 pm, at Mall Galleries, London.

 

 

References and further information: